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Jews on selection ramp at Auschwitz, May 1944
The phrase "life unworthy of life" (in German : "Lebensunwertes Leben") was a Nazi designation for the segments of the populace which according to the Nazi regime had no right to live. Those individuals were targeted to be euthanized by the state, usually through the compulsion or deception of their caretakers. The term included people with serious medical problems and those considered grossly inferior according to the racial policy of Nazi Germany. This concept formed an important component of the ideology of Nazism and eventually helped lead to the Holocaust. It is similar to but more restrictive than the concept of "Untermensch", subhumans, as not all "subhumans" were considered unworthy of life (Slavs, for instance, were deemed useful for slave labor).
The euthanasia program was officially adopted in 1939 and came through the personal decision of Adolf Hitler. It grew in extent and scope from Aktion T4 ending officially in 1941 when public protests stopped the program, through the Action 14f13 against concentration camp inmates. The euthanasia of certain cultural and religious groups and those with physical and mental disabilities continued more discreetly until the end of World War II. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Romani, communists, anarchists, and political dissidents.
The expression first appeared in print via the title of a 1920 book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life) by two professors, the jurist Karl Binding (retired from the University of Leipzig) and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche from the University of Freiburg.According to Hoche, some living people who were brain damaged, intellectually disabled, autistic (though not recognized as such at the time), and psychiatrically ill were "mentally dead", "human ballast" and "empty shells of human beings". Hoche believed that killing such people was useful. Some people were simply considered disposable. Later the killing was extended to people considered 'racially impure' or 'racially inferior' according to Nazi thinking.
The concept culminated in Nazi extermination camps, instituted to systematically kill those who were unworthy to live according to Nazi ideologists. It also justified various human experimentation and eugenics programs, as well as Nazi racial policies.
According to the author of Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, the policy went through a number of iterations and modifications:
Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the principle of "life unworthy of life," coercive sterilization was the first. There followed the killing of "impaired" children in hospitals; and then the killing of "impaired" adults, mostly collected from mental hospitals, in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide gas. This project was extended (in the same killing centers) to "impaired" inmates of concentration and extermination camps and, finally, to mass killings in the extermination camps themselves.
Nazi Germany used six extermination camps, also called death camps, or killing centers, in Central Europe during the Holocaust in World War II to systematically murder about 2.7 million Jews during the Holocaust. Others were murdered at the death camps as well, including Romani people during the Romani genocide. The victims of death camps were primarily killed by gassing, either in permanent installations constructed for this specific purpose, or by means of gas vans. The six extermination camps were Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Auschwitz and Majdanek death camps also used extreme work under starvation conditions in order to kill their prisoners.
Karl Brandt was a German physician and Schutzstaffel (SS) officer in Nazi Germany. Trained in surgery, Brandt joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and became Adolf Hitler's escort doctor in August 1934. A member of Hitler's inner circle at the Berghof, he was selected by Philipp Bouhler, the head of Hitler's Chancellery, to administer the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. Brandt was later appointed the Reich Commissioner of Sanitation and Health. Accused of involvement in human experimentation and other war crimes, Brandt was indicted in late 1946 and faced trial before a U.S. military tribunal along with 22 others in United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and later hanged on 2 June 1948.
A gas chamber is an apparatus for killing humans or other animals with gas, consisting of a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas is introduced. Poisonous agents used include hydrogen cyanide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Aktion T4 was a postwar name for mass murder by involuntary euthanasia in Nazi Germany. The name T4 is an abbreviation of Tiergartenstraße 4, a street address of the Chancellery department set up in early 1940, in the Berlin borough of Tiergarten, which recruited and paid personnel associated with T4. Certain German physicians were authorised to select patients "deemed incurably sick, after most critical medical examination" and then administer to them a "mercy death". In October 1939, Adolf Hitler signed a "euthanasia note", backdated to 1 September 1939, which authorised his physician Karl Brandt and Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler to implement the programme.
Viktor Hermann Brack was a German Nazi war criminal, an organiser of the euthanasia programme Action T4, where the Nazi state systematically murdered over 70,000 disabled German and Austrian people. Following this, Brack was one of the men responsible for the gassing of Jews in the extermination camps, and he conferred with Odilo Globočnik about the practical implementation of the Final Solution. Brack was sentenced to death in 1947 and executed by hanging in 1948.
Hermann Paul Nitsche was a German psychiatrist known for his expert endorsement of the Third Reich's euthanasia authorization and who later headed the Medical Office of the T-4 Euthanasia Program.
Karl Ludwig Lorenz Binding was a German jurist known as a promoter of the theory of retributive justice. His influential book, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens, written together with the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche, was used by the Nazis to justify their T-4 Euthanasia Program.
The Jewish question, also referred to as the Jewish problem, was a wide-ranging debate in 19th- and 20th-century European society that pertained to the appropriate status and treatment of Jews. The debate, which was similar to other "national questions", dealt with the civil, legal, national, and political status of Jews as a minority within society, particularly in Europe during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
The Hadamar Euthanasia Centre, known as the "House of Shutters," was a psychiatric hospital located in the German town of Hadamar, near Limburg in Hessen, from 1941 to 1945.
Horst Schumann was an SS-Sturmbannführer (major) and medical doctor who conducted sterilization and castration experiments at Auschwitz and was particularly interested in the mass sterilization of Jews by means of X-rays.
Nazi eugenics were Nazi Germany's racially based social policies that placed the biological improvement of the Aryan race or Germanic "Übermenschen" master race through eugenics at the center of Nazi ideology. In Germany, eugenics were mostly known under the synonymous term racial hygiene. Following the Second World War, both terms effectively vanished and were replaced by human genetics.
Ewald Meltzer was a German director of an asylum in Saxony whose work had an influence on the Nazis to justify their T-4 Euthanasia Program.
Action 14f13, also called "Sonderbehandlung14f13" and Aktion 14f13, was a campaign by Nazi Germany to terminate Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Also called invalid or prisoner euthanasia, the campaign culled the sick, elderly and those deemed no longer fit for work, from the rest of the prisoners in a selection process, after which they were killed. The Nazi campaign was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and later covered other groups of concentration camp prisoners.
Alfred Erich Hoche was a German psychiatrist well known for his writings about eugenics and euthanasia.
The Sonnenstein Euthanasia Clinic was a Nazi euthanasia or extermination centre located in the former fortress of Sonnenstein Castle near Pirna in eastern Germany, where a hospital had been established in 1811.
The Hartheim Euthanasia Centre was a killing centre involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, also referred to as Aktion T4. The killing centre was housed in Hartheim Castle in the municipality of Alkoven, near Linz, Austria.
The Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre, officially known as the Brandenburg an der Havel State Welfare Institute was established in 1939 and acted during the Nazi era as a killing centre as part of the Nazi Euthanasia Programme, subsequently referred to after the war as Action T4.
The Nazi Euthanasia Centre at Bernburg operated from 21 November 1940 to 30 July 1943 in a separate wing of the State Sanatorium and Mental Hospital in Bernburg on the River Saale in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It was one of several euthanasia centres run by the Nazis under their official "Euthanasia Programme", later referred to after the war as Action T4. A total of 9,384 sick and handicapped people from 33 welfare institutions and nursing homes as well as around 5,000 prisoners from six concentration camps were killed here in a gas chamber using carbon monoxide gas.
The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide was written by Robert Jay Lifton and published in 1986, analyzing the role of German doctors in carrying out a genocide. In the work Lifton details the medical procedures occurring before and during the Holocaust and explores the paradoxical theme of healing killing in which one race was healed by eliminating another; a concept that many used to morally justify their actions. Throughout the book, Lifton provides yo from interviews he conducted with SS doctors and with victims.